Syrian Hend Zaza, Youngest Athlete of the Olympics, Loses in Table Tennis

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TOKYO – After the last point, after everything he’s been through, Hend Zaza, the youngest Olympian of the Tokyo Games, wept.

Reaching the Olympics from war-torn Syria, where it’s hard to find a safe place to train with uninterrupted electricity, let alone 12, is no small feat.

But Zaza’s Olympic appearance was short-lived. She lost to Austrian Liu Jia in straight sets (4-11, 9-11, 3-11, 5-11) in the opening round of the women’s singles table tennis tournament on Saturday. Later, 39-year-old Liu walked over to Zaza and hugged her.

“I had maternal feelings,” said Liu, who has a 10-year-old daughter. “It was less about the sports side of the game and more about the human side.”

According to the Tokyo Games, with 12 years and 204 days, Zaza became the youngest table tennis player to compete in the Olympics. He was the youngest Olympian in any sport since 1992, when 12-year-old Hungarian Judit Kiss competed in swimming and 11-year-old Spanish Carlos Font joined the sport of rowing.

Although Zaza had hoped to put on a better show, he went on a lost whirlwind ride. The night before his match, he was Syria’s flag bearer. opening ceremony. A late night and six hours of jet lag meant he barely slept—not a great preparation against Liu, who made his sixth Olympic appearance.

“I was hoping for a winning match and a better game, but this is a tough opponent, so it’s a good lesson for me, especially in the first Olympics,” Zaza said through an interpreter. “I’ll work on it for a better result next time, hopefully.”

Still, with her long hair flowing around the table, Zaza displayed a skill that impressed his seasoned opponent.

“I needed to remind myself not to belittle him,” Liu said. He described Zaza as a “great talent” who needed more experience and had good rhythm and instincts.

Zaza started playing table tennis at the age of 5, following in the footsteps of an older brother. A local coach, Adham Aljamaan, spotted him and took him under his wing.

For most of Zaza’s life, Syria was a civil war. He trained in a place with old tables, concrete floors and frequent power cuts. International Table Tennis Federation publication.

11-year-old Zaza qualified for the Tokyo Games by defeating 42-year-old Lebanese Mariana Sahakian at the West Asian Olympic qualifying tournament in Jordan last year. The Chinese Olympic Committee has invited Zaza to train in China, a table tennis center after the coronavirus pandemic restrictions are lifted. said.

“For the last five years, I have had many different experiences, especially with the war, the postponement, the financing of the Olympics throughout the country,” said Zaza. “It was very difficult. But I had to fight for it.”

“My message to everyone who wants to experience the same situation is this: Fight for your dream, work hard regardless of the difficulties you experience and you will reach your goal.”

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